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What the CEO of Nestlé USA, a USF grad, looks for in new hires

Margie Manning

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Moez Limayem, dean, USF Muma College of Business, and Steve Presley, CEO, Nestlé USA

The University of South Florida graduate who heads the U.S. division of the world’s largest food company is more concerned about his workers’ EQ than their IQ.

That’s why Nestlé USA no longer recruits students from Ivy League schools, said Steve Presley, CEO.

“What makes them a straight A student in the Ivy League universe actually will probably not make them successful in the corporate world,” Presley said. “What makes you get a perfect SAT is because you are a very  strong individual contributor. You know the system and you know how to work it. That will almost always ensure poor performance in a corporate environment. Look across my leadership team, and there’s one or two from Stanford or Harvard, the rest are state schools, because in the end they are the ones with the highest EQ. It’s that ability to influence, motivate and inspire teams to achieve results. That’s what drives value creation in our world.”

Presley shared his views on talent, technology and business transitions during a talk with Moez Limayem, dean of the USF Muma College of Business, at the school’s Conversation with a CEO event Thursday morning at CAMLS in Tampa.

Presley grew up in West Palm Beach, in a family he described as “very poor,” and did not intend to go to college until he was prodded to do so by a high school teacher.

Given that background, Limayem asked Presley what it’s like to head a company with 40,000 employees.

“It’s like any enterprise you run. It’s about your people. I truly believe that businesses succeed or fail based on the quality of the talent you have and the climate you create for that talent. Do you create a climate that allows your talent to not only exist, but to thrive? My goal is to empower you, to let you know I  want you to take risks, make decisions, move the organization forward. Don’t use our scale as an excuse … I want you to move with the pace and intensity of an entrepreneur,” he said.

Nestlé’s brands include Gerber baby food, Perrier water, Toll House cookies, Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Häagen-Dazs, and Purina pet food, among others. Its products are in 98 percent of all U.S. households. One key to its success is to connect with consumers at a level that’s more than just a transaction, he said.

“We solve problems in people’s lives,” Presley said. “One of the highest points of stress for a mom in the day is the 4 o’clock witching hour [when the family starts asking what’s for dinner.] That insight allows us to not just sell her a lasagna or a pizza, but to solve a problem for her that actually lets her feel like she prepares a meal at home, and in the end drives our business.”

Innovation plays a key role at Nestlé, as at all businesses.

“Analytics will become the way every part of your business is done. Your ability to organize data, use the data and drive insight from that, and then create action in the organization is what the business of tomorrow will become,” Presley said.

Nestlé and other companies have an incredible amount of data about “connected consumers” with geo-services on their phones, that tells retailers and product manufacturers how consumers shop, when they shop, where they shop and what they buy things with.

“We know you’re in front of the coffee aisle. What we’d like to do with assisted realty — instead of you reading the label, the farmer comes up in assisted reality and tells you where he grows the beans.”

While Amazon has transformed retail, retail isn’t going away, Presley said.

“Walmart is a huge customer for us. They got a new CEO five years ago who said if we don’t change ourselves we will die. He made immediate changes and they are a formidable competitor to Amazon. But you’ve got to make the shift and renovate yourself to be relevant for tomorrow,” Presley said.

The key is staying relevant, he said. “We disrupt ourselves before we are disrupted.”

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